Bush administration climbs aboard light rail: project gets highest-possible rating, FY 2004 budget includes $75 million for light rail

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Central Link light rail today became one of only two transit projects in the nation to receive a "highly recommended" Federal Transit Administration rating — the highest possible under the agency's process for prioritizing applicants for New Starts funding.

In a major indication of the new rating's significance, the FY 2004 budget issued today by President Bush proposes $75 million for building the light rail system's initial segment.

"With these statements of confidence, we are thrilled and grateful to welcome President Bush and his administration aboard Link light rail," said Ron Sims, Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive. "Light rail is the ‘one sure thing' going for our region on the transportation front. We appreciate the confidence and trust that the Bush Administration has placed in us to deliver this project and for the hard, bipartisan work of Sen. Patty Murray and other members of our congressional delegation to deliver effective results for the people of this region."

"We appreciate the efforts of the Bush Administration and FTA to help us restore public confidence in this project," Sims said. "It's clear today the Bush Administration is committed to helping solve our region's transportation crisis and supports us in our remaining work to complete the Full Funding Grant Agreement process. We will work hard with the FTA every day over the next several months and with Congress so the FFGA can be executed this year and we can start laying tracks this summer."

"President Bush, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and Federal Transit Administrator Jenna Dorn have worked with us from Day One of the Administration," said Dave Earling, Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Edmonds City Council President. "They have given us the time, opportunity and assistance we needed to make changes in the project and the way we operate. Now that we've shown we're back on track, we are very grateful for the support they're giving us."

The project's "highly recommended" rating, contained in the FTA's annual New Starts report to Congress, is based on the project's ridership, cost-effectiveness, local financial commitment and level of design. Central Link light rail is one of only four projects the FTA has proposed to receive FFGAs this year.

The new rating and budget follow other recent signs of renewed federal confidence in Central Link, including the Federal Transit Administration's release of $50 million in funding last month and its award of final design approval for the project last summer.

The $75 million would provide the FY 2004 installment of the FFGA that Sound Transit is hoping to secure this summer after the executive and legislative branches complete their extensive reviews of the project. The $500 million FFGA — one-quarter of the initial segment's $2.07 billion capital cost — includes $91 million that Sound Transit has already received.

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Sound Transit plans, builds and operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.